Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Genealogy Trip to Hawaii, Day One

Finally, we see Washington Place in person!

This is a description of my family history related visit to Hawaii for the past two weeks. We arrived Honolulu in the early evening, bleary eyed and exhausted, so to me the Hawaii trip really started on Day Two. Our first night we checked into a hotel on Waikiki Beach, ate a bite for dinner, and I took a dip in the pool. Later, whilst walking along Waikiki Beach hubby took a dip in the ocean, too. We went to bed early. Little did I know that I would be so busy, I would only have time to swim two more times in the next two weeks!

The next day we were up early for a ten o’clock appointment at Washington Place in downtown Honolulu. This is the home Captain John Dominis built for his Boston wife, Mary Lambert Jones. Their son, Governor John Owen Dominis lived there with his wife, Lili’uokalani. It became the Queen’s residence after she was forced from the throne, and her adopted son John Aimoku Dominis lived there also. His three children were all born at Washington Place.

I’ve had an ongoing online email conversation with the Washington Place curator, Corinne Chun for several years. Corinne saw my posting on line for information related to Mary Dominis, and she sent me copies of several very good letters from the Hawaii State Archives that helped further my research in to the Jones sisters. You can read about this in some of my early blog posts last year. It was very nice to meet her in person.

We were able to tour the house, sit on the lanai and chat, and go up to Corinne’s office (the old governor’s bedroom) for more chatting and exchanging information. I saw the Queen’s bedroom, which had been lovingly restored, some of her personal effects, and other family mementos. It was very moving to be in Washington Place after reading about it for thirty years! We didn’t leave until 1:30 in the afternoon, and I was quite surprised that Corinne would spend so much time with me!

Corinne Chun, curator, me and a photo of
Queen Lili'uokalani with Aimoku's two eldest children
on the lanai of Washington Place

After leaving Washington Place, we met a Dominis cousin at her place of business and made arrangements to meet again with her the following week. This was as much fun to me as seeing Washington Place. I had previously met up with her sister last year in Massachusetts. We were surprised to see that Washington Place was right across the street from the Hawaii State Capitol building, and one block from the Iolani Palace and Hawaii State Archives. Everything was very close together and easy to find.

Our next step was to cross the island of Oahu for the North Shore community of Haleiwa. This is the town where the Queen Lili’uokalani Protestant Church is located. I had blogged about it at http://nutfieldgenealogy.blogspot.com/2009/12/rev-john-smith-emerson.html last year. I was meeting another distant cousin there in the church cemetery. We arrived a bit early, so I knocked on the pastor’s door for permission to view the church. Reverend Kahu Neal MacPherson was very gracious, and showed us around a bit, but it was only his second day at the church! The church secretary gave us a wonderful tour.

The church was organized in 1832 by the Reverend John Smith Emerson of Chester, New Hampshire. He was another distant cousin who arrived with the Fifth Company missionaries to the Sandwich Island. Just by coincidence, Chester is only one town away from Londonderry, where I now live. The first church was a grass hut, attended by over 2,000 native Hawaiians. The first actual building was erected about 1841 with a bell carried on the shoulders of Hawaiian men from Honolulu to Haleiwa. The third church was built in 1890, and this was the building attended by Queen Lili’uokalani when she stayed at her nearby beach house. She donated the chandeliers, books and the famous clock. In 1961 the current building was erected. The bell still hangs in the tower above the front door.

It was fun to finally “meet” my cousin, who had been my internet pen pal for several years. She has supplied me with much information on the Holt family, descendants of a third Jones sister. She also is the person who has been telling me about the Queen Lili’uokalani church for years, and we together laid some leis on the graves of the Emerson family. It was another emotional moment. We happily made plans to get together at Iolani Palace the following week.

We went home the long way, driving all along the north shore coast and returning to Honolulu through the very scenic mountain pass of the Wilson tunnel. The green, steep, volcanic mountains could take your breath away with their beauty, and the beaches were picturesque beyond description.

We knew that there was going to be an event at the Iolani Palace at 7PM that evening for a panel discussion for the recently released movie “Princess Kaiulani”. I had seen the movie, and blogged about it several times earlier this year. We didn’t know if we’d be home to Honolulu in time, but we actually drove up to Iolani Palace right at 6:30 PM, just in time to get a seat right next to my Honolulu cousin!

The panel discussion was chaired by Nanette Napoleon of the Iolani Palace; Desoto Brown of the Bishop Museum; Leo Anderson Akana (she played the Queen in the movie); Jeffery Au and Richard Galindez, producers, and moderated by Wanda Adams formerly of the Honolulu Advertiser. Blaine Kamalani Kia and Sonny Kalua sang a feature song from the film. I was fascinated by the presentation, and equally admired the passion of the Hawaiian people who questioned, complimented and also skewered certain historical points in the movie.

Desoto Brown (standing) archivist from the Bishop Museum

We didn’t leave the discussion until after 10:30 PM. We were exhausted and fell into bed. What a full first day in Hawaii!

Copyright 2010, Heather Wilkinson Rojo


  1. How wonderful! Sounds like a trip of a lifetime.

  2. Great photos and a great story! Thank you for taking your readers on "vacation!" :)

  3. So glad you've begun writing about your wonderful trip. Now we can enjoy the stories.